Boost “Feel Good” Neurotransmitters with Natural Mood Enhancers!
Boost “Feel Good” Neurotransmitters
with Natural Mood Enhancers!
-by Mark Becker
I live in Hermosa Beach, a sleepy beach town located in Southern California, 40 minutes south of Los Angeles. In short, it’s PARADISE! The average annual rainfall in Hermosa is a little over 13 inches. Generally speaking, it is very difficult to sink into a funk when you live in Southern California. However, what if you lived in the Pacific Northwest, for example, Seattle has 158 days of precipitation per year.
I’m writing about weather in a health article because weather, among other things, can significantly impact your mood. If you are depressed you’re in a mental/physical place that is hard to define. You’re not so depressed you want to take drastic measures, but you’re definitely not happy. Everything is an effort and nothing is fun. Life is, well, ”blah”. Those blahs are a sign of low-level depression. What to do? Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil? I hope not. However, people finding themselves in this situation should consider making some lifestyle changes and may want to consider taking specific supplements known as natural mood enhancers.
According to WebMD.com, more than 20 million American adults have a mood disorder and 40 million suffer from an anxiety disorder-and these numbers don’t include the average worrier or someone who suffers from an occasional bout of sadness. For depression alone, the annual cost for treatment and lost wages may be as high as $52 billion. These statistics are evidence why so many people are researching mood supplements or other mood-enhancing alternatives to drugs.
Many health professionals will advise that creating a supplement regimen to address mood and anxiety is risky. I disagree. With the proper research, the right choices can be made. With the added help from a trusted health professional, you will have a wide range of science-based, efficacious natural mood enhancers to choose from that do not produce many of the common side effects associated with prescription antidepressants. These side effects can be very serious and include suicidal tendencies, sexual dysfunction, urinary retention/increased urination in small voids, constipation, blurred vision, headache, weight gain, and gastrointestinal disturbance, among many others.
Ultimately, you want to boost neurotransmitters that will better regulate your body’s natural sleep rhythms, prevent glandular atrophy and even reduce the inflammation that has been linked to depression.
Neurotransmitters: Messengers that Impact How You Feel
A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that carries, boosts and modulates signals between neurons and other cells in the body. Neurotransmitter levels impact how you feel. There are about 50 identified neurotransmitters, but the most important and most widely recognized ones are serotonin, noradrenalineanddopamine.
Serotonin: The brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitter, it promotes feelings of wellbeing, resilience, calm, personal security, relaxation, confidence and concentration. Many people suffer from various degrees of brain serotonin deficiency. This deficiency leads to a wide range of mental, emotional and behavioral problems, including depression. Serotonin deficiencies have been linked to a number of conditions, including anxiety, suicide, alcoholism, violent behavior, PMS, obesity, compulsive gambling, insomnia, carbohydrate craving, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and migraine headaches.
Noradrenaline: Promotes motivation and drive. Derived from dopamine, noradrenalin impacts great state of minds, such as being in love.
Dopamine: The primary neurotransmitter involved in the reward pathways in the brain. Drugs that increase dopamine signaling may create feelings of euphoria . This neurotransmitter can be very powerful when using recreational drugs such as cocaine. Dopamine neurotransmission impacts many disorders, including Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and drug and alcohol dependence.
These three neurotransmitters work together in a delicate balance. Serotonin counterbalances the tendency of noradrenaline and dopamine, which encourage over-arousal, fear, anger, tension, aggression, violence, obsessive-compulsive actions, overeating, anxiety and sleep disturbances. Certain supplements may enhance and rebalance these mental interactions. Supplements, along with the eating the right foods and exercise, will go a long way toward experiencing optimum state of mind.
Food and Mood
Yes, food greatly impacts mood. And by making a few simple adjustments to your diet, you can elevate your mood which will produce profound benefits. Believe it or not, maintaining a good mood will help you stick to a healthy diet, as well as help you be more productive and increase your self-esteem.
Interestingly, changes in diet do not have to deprive you of the foods you love. The essential amino acid Tryptophan is one of the most potent mood enhancers and found in some of the following great tasting and healthy foods:
- whole grain pasta
- cottage cheese
Exercise and Mood
Many studies show that people who exercise regularly realize a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression. “Exercise Therapy” is not yet widely accepted, but this treatment is free and has no side effects. Compare that with antidepressant drugs, which cost Americans $10 billion each year, and have many common side effects that have been previously outlined.
The phenomena that exercise is crucial to good health — both mental and physical — is nothing new. As early as the 1970s and 1980s, observational studies showed that Americans who exercised were not only less likely to be depressed than those who did not but also less likely to become depressed in the future.
In fact, in 1999, Duke University researchers demonstrated in a randomized controlled clinical trial that depressed adults who participated in an aerobic exercise routine improved as much as those treated with sertraline, the medication marketed as Zoloft1. This drug was earning Pfizer more than $3 billion annually before its patent expired in 2006.
Subsequent trials have repeated these results, showing repeatedly that patients who follow aerobic exercise regimens see improvement in their depression comparable to people treated with medication.
To be fair, most of these exercise trials have been narrow. However, despite limited data, the trials all seem to indicate that exercise boosts mood. It not only relieves depressive symptoms but also appears to prevent them from recurring. I can attest to this! I have long suffered from depressive symptoms myself, and to overcome this, I have practiced a regular exercise routine (for more than 30 years). I credit my routine as the singular reason I have won my personal fight against depression.
Are Sleep and Depression Linked?
The inability to sleep, more commonly known as insomnia, is a major sign of depression. Conversely, a small percentage of depressed people, approximately 15%, oversleep or sleep too much. Lack of sleep alone cannot cause depression, but it does play a role. An inability to sleep that lasts over a sustained period of time is a symptom of depression. In fact, traditional Chinese doctors often evaluate their patients sleep habits before addressing other factors. They understand that different areas of the brain do their recovery and repair work at different times of the night.
We’ve heard it many times before. However, it is crucial to get eight hours of sleep every night. Without rest, the body will not work at peak efficiency. A lack of sleep will ultimately lead to a wide range of body system failures, or, at the very least, many hardships addressing daily activities that normally shouldn’t be difficult.
Many traditional doctors will recommend psychotherapy (talk therapy or counseling), combined with medications (antidepressants), as being effective in treating depression. I urge you to do your due diligence and to research natural solutions to mood or anxiety disorders. These “solutions” may include counseling in addition to supplementing with some clinically validated natural compounds.
As previously mentioned, millions of American adults have a mood or an anxiety disorder. These highs and lows can significantly impact your life as well as the lives of family, friends and colleagues. We all strive to live happy and balanced lives, and there are several mood enhancing supplements that can help you achieve this. In fact, there are entire sections in health food stores dedicated to mood supplements. Ask a health professional that truly has an integrated approach to their practice about the following supplements, (there are many more), to help fight mood and anxiety disorders:
- 5-HTP: Produced by the body from the amino acid tryptophan. 5-HTP increases the level of serotonin in the brain, similar to antidepressants, which helps to regulate mood and behavior. Studies indicate 5-HTP may be just as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. (http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/3/4/271.pdf)2.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Overfed and overweight, it seems unlikely that most Americans would be deficient in fat. But there is one fat many Americans sorely lack: this is the Omega-3s. It is thought that this “deficiency” may cause or worsen depression symptoms in some people. The mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of fish oil for years. Studies have shown that the Omega-3s found in fish oil not only help to prevent depression, but also fight heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, ulcers, diabetes, and hyperactivity, among other diseases. While Omega-3s can be found in flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods, the most beneficial form of Omega-3, containing the fatty acids EPA and DHA, and can only be found in fish. Be sure to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants. This will insure that you are taking the highest purity of fish oil.
- Tryptophan: An essential amino acid found in foods that contain protein such as turkey. Tryptophan is able to convert into 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan), and then to serotonin. Serotonin is involved in mood, appetite, sleep and impulse control. Serotonin taken orally as a pill is not able to easily cross the blood brain barrier. Therefore, either tryptophan or 5-HTP are good natural options as they convert into serotonin after going into the brain.
- SAMe: Naturally occurring in the body, SAMe is a natural chemical made by many of the body’s tissues and organs. It is used for production of many compounds throughout the body, including proteins, lipids in cell membranes, some hormones and neurotransmitters. SAMe may be very beneficial if you suffer from depression. In fact, studies show that SAMe acts more quickly than prescription antidepressants, which often take 6 to 8 weeks to produce a positive response (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/5/1158S.full)3. SAMe has been shown to increase the amount of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, in certain parts of the brain.
- St. John’s Wort: Has been shown to be effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. St. John’s Wort inhibits the reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. (http://homepages.gac.edu/~jwotton2/PSY385/mechanism%20in%20st.%20johns%20wort.pdf)4. The end result is an increase in neurotransmitter activity. It is very important to find a high-quality extract which is standardized to 5% hyperforin, the only amount which has been clinically validated to reduce depressive symptoms. Always check with your physician if you have sun-sensitivity or spend a lot of time in the sun as this supplement can cause a reaction in those who have sun-sensitivity.
Anxiety, depression and similar symptoms are a normal part of life. If you are experiencing depressive symptoms, talk to a trusted health professional to get an objective opinion on its severity. Do you have low energy? Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you having problems getting out of bed? Consider lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise and supplements. Each are simple but powerful tools in treating depression. Sometimes these changes may be all you need to lift you out of that funk and into a more fulfilling life and greater happiness.
1. Blumenthal, J., Babyak, M., Moore, K., Craighead, W., Herman, S., Khatri, P., & Krishnan, K. (1999). Effects of exercise training on older patients with major depression. Archives of Internal Medicine, 159(19), 2349-2356.
2. Birdsall, Timothy C. “5-Hydroxytryptophan: A Clinically-Effective Serotonin Precursor.”Alternative Medicine Review 3.4 (1998): 271-80.
3. Mischoulon, David, and Maurizio Fava. “Role of S-adenosyl-L-methionine in the Treatment of Depression: A Review of the Evidence.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 76.5 (2002): 1158S-161
4. Butterweck, Veronika. “Mechanism of Action of St John’s Wort in Depression: What Is Known?” CNS Drugs 17.8 (2003): 539-62.
about the author-
Mark Becker is an Account Manager for Vivion, a raw materials distributor, based in Vernon, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years. Mark has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor’s in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Mark Becker on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marklbecker/posts/387591877933686#!/energyatlast. Follow Mark on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/becker_mark. For more information, access www.vivioninc.com or www.EnergyatLast.com.
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